Bethel rail service option presented
Bethel might one day see four round-trip trains a day from Portland, under a passenger-rail revival scenario presented here Monday by planners working with the Maine Department of Transportation.
And if rail service is extended all the way to Montreal, that number could increase.
Monday’s presentation at the Bethel Inn to about two dozen people was the second such meeting in three months. In September, about 70 people turned out to let MDOT and its consultants know their wishes for the return of rail service. Much of the discussion centered on bringing skiers to the area by rail.
The planners took that input and other information and came up with some preliminary options for extending the current Downeaster train service from the Portland area to Lewiston-Auburn and beyond.
A return to Bethel would require improvements to the existing trail platform located at Bethel Station (currently the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce building). The platform, built more than 15 years ago for what would be a failed attempt to revive rail service, has since sunk and is now too low to accommodate passengers getting off trains, the planners said. But it meets the 400-foot length requirement to serve a five-car train.
And while parking would be available on the south side of the Casablanca Cinema building, the plan calls for additional parking on what is now a gravel lot, located next to the current parking lot.
An overnight layover facility for the trains would also be constructed, on 10 to 14 acres of land in Bethel.
As for the train schedule, trips between Portland and Bethel would take an estimated one hour and 40 minutes. For travelers linking to Boston, three of the four daily Bethel trips would be “one-seat” (no transfers between trains).
Stops would include Lewiston-Auburn and South Paris.
In South Paris, the old Grand Trunk Railroad Station would be utilized. The station currently serves as an ice cream shop, and the nearby Ford dealership uses much of the parking lot for its cars.
Also discussed Monday was the possibility of bus service between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn, which could provide interim transportation until rail service could be established. The planners said bus service might also be a means to test the market for public transportation along the corridor. A preliminary schedule was presented.
Scott Hynek of Bethel asked the planners to also look into bus service to Bethel.
The option for possible train service to Montreal calls for two round trips daily of seven hours, 20 minutes each (assuming 90 minutes for customs). Stops would be planned for Berlin and North Stratford, N.H., as well several locations in Quebec.
The next steps in the study will be to develop ridership and cost information, evaluate the alternatives and provide recommendations, and present the information to the public. That portion of the study is expected to be done in January.
After the study is completed, potential next steps include an environmental analysis, further design, the securing of funding for construction and operation, procurement of equipment and materials, and construction.
Having plans in place would help the effort in seeking federal funds, the planners said.
To try to help make trains a reality here, local rail supporters are also planning a “Transportation Summit” in the spring. They hope to draw representatives from New Hampshire, Vermont, Canada, as well as federal transportation officials.
Sue Moreau, of MDOT, said transportation officials in those states and Canada are aware of the rail effort.
For more information on the rail study, go to www.atrcmpo.org.